Trump Administration Continues War on Pot

By Jesselyn McCurdy

The majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana. The Marijuana Justice Act will do just that.

If polling is correct, pot no longer gives Americans fits. Recent Gallup polls indicate that 64 percent of Americans approve of legalizing marijuana — the highest level of public support in almost 50 years. Nevertheless, we have an administration that is tone deaf to the will of the people and insists on reinstituting failed policies of decades past.

But there are members of Congress who are listening. Earlier this week, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) introduced the Marijuana Justice Act in the House of Representatives. Both agree that legalizing marijuana under federal law is an important step to confronting and eroding the harms that the failed war on drugs has had on people across the country, disproportionately Black and brown communities.

In addition to legalization, the bill would cut federal funding for state law enforcement and prison construction if a state disproportionately arrests and incarcerate people of color for marijuana offenses. It also would retroactively apply to those currently serving sentences and allow people in federal prison for marijuana offenses to go to court and ask a judge to reduce their sentence.

When Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced the bill in the Senate last summer, he acknowledged “our country’s drug laws are badly broken and need to be fixed. … [T]hey don’t make our communities any
safer.” Booker, like Lee and Khanna, understands that laws that do not make communities safer must be questioned, and in this case, stricken.

Currently more than one in five Americans live in the eight states and the District of Columbia that have legalized small amounts of marijuana for recreational use, not to mention the 29 states that approve medicinal use. The federal government should follow the states, and the people, and legalize pot.

In a groundbreaking 2013 report, the ACLU documented that Blacks are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite comparable usage rates. Even more disturbing, in the District of Columbia in 2013, where Black people make up 49 percent of the population and whites and people of other backgrounds make up 51 percent, nearly 91 percent of the people arrested for marijuana offenses were Black. These stunning statistics led D.C residents to support marijuana legalization in 2016. They should likewise spur people to support the Marijuana Justice Act.

As John Ehrlichman, former domestic policy chief for Richard Nixon, has confirmed, the war on drugs was never about the stated purpose of protecting the health and safety of the American people. Instead, it was really about undermining the Black and anti-war communities. As Ehrlichman told journalist Dan Baum in 1994:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Unfortunately in 2018, we have an attorney general who is stuck in the past and has embraced these divisive Nixonian policies and tactics. Earlier this month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded several Obama-era policies that recognized states’ rights to legalize marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes.

Although this administration does not recognize or seem to care about the harm that antiquated drug policies have caused to communities of color, it is refreshing to see that some members of Congress — like Cory Booker, Barbara Lee, and Ro Khanna — do. They are fighting back with the Marijuana Justice Act, which lives up to its name and would be important to criminal justice reform for our nation.

Jesselyn McCurdy is with the ACLU Washington Legislative Office

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Jeff M

    Why didn’t Democrats take care of this when they controlled the federal government for six of eight years?

    The reason… Money.

    How do the politicians in Washington get their grubby little hands on all that dough?

    Once they figure that out, there will be bipartisan support for legalizing pot nationally.

    1. David Greenwald

      Democrats didn’t control the federal government for six to eight years, at most two years, six years ago. Legalization wasn’t really there yet at that point. This is a pretty recent phenomenon.

  2. Howard P

    Rather than a national “legalization”, I’d like to see the Feds step away and let the states ‘legalize’/regulate/ban.  Don’t believe the Feds should say it’s “legal” in all 50 states… just remove Fed regulation…

    Congress just might pass legislation if representatives from states that have huge reservations knew they could “keep on trucking” with the restrictions/bans they wanted…

    Ultimately it is congress, not the administration who has control here…

      1. Howard P

        Primarily to get the votes needed in congress, to decriminalize it from federal law…

        Many of the states most likely to oppose national legalization are also pretty strong “states’ rights” states… and fiscally conservative.  If Utah doesn’t want to legalize it, they don’t have to… but they may well vote to let CA, WA, CO do their thing without the Feds interfering and expending Federal funds to do so.

        Also states could control where/how it is available… in some states you cannot buy alcohol except from “State stores”

        Worth a shot…(pun unintended)


      1. Howard P

        That was my point Don… although I didn’t know the “cite”… red state folk in congress might be more willing to do that (remove it from Schedule 1 [am trusting you on that cite, Don!]), if it was clear their states could ban it, at the State level…

        I don’t think use of cannibis is a “civil right”, unlike other things we don’t choose to have states decide for themselves.

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